Peninsula supervisor questions jail plans

San Mateo County sheriff’s officials are standing by their plan to build a new 768-bed jail to relieve overcrowding despite a supervisor’s concern that the county has not done enough to shrink its existing inmate population.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson has exchanged letters with Sheriff Greg Munks in recent weeks expressing her trepidation, writing in a July 16 memo that she has “serious reservations” about current plans to construct a six-story jail expected to cost $170 million.

Jacobs Gibson said she isn’t convinced that the county needs hundreds of additional jail beds. She sent Munks a series of questions, asking what programs the county is using to divert people to treatment programs or keep them from coming back to jail.

“I am concerned that the sheriff’s recommendation portends a jail that will be full and we will be facing the same problems we are today within a few short years,” Jacobs Gibson wrote July 16. “That is not acceptable.”

Munks responded this week with a letter detailing various existing programs, including assessments of sentenced inmates, a culinary skills program, substance-abuse treatment and a mentoring program, and said the new jail will focus on helping inmates transition back to society.

As for the 768 beds, sheriff’s officials believe “we need to build that many beds to depopulate,” Assistant Sheriff Trisha Sanchez said in an interview.

Sanchez said the county has lost 388 jail beds over the last decade due to facility closures, while the average daily population at the men’s Maguire Correctional Facility has stayed around 1,000 inmates, well above its rated capacity of 688 inmates. The women’s facility has averaged around 100 inmates this year, compared with its capacity of 84.

“We don’t want to be in emergency mode, so it’s really a long-term adjustment for our system that’s been long overdue,” Sanchez said.

Jacobs Gibson could not be reached for comment this week.

Supervisors voted 3-2 in June against an initial approval for the jail project — accepting the proposed specifications — citing concerns about cost and where it will be located. Jacobs Gibson was one of the no votes.

The Sheriff’s Office plans to ask supervisors in September or October to approve one of two sites — the county’s downtown Redwood City campus or a site near the Redwood City Police Station.

Munks also pointed out in a July 22 letter to Jacobs Gibson that the county has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the state at 16.4 inmates per 10,000 residents.

“Reducing our population further, for the sake of saving money, would threaten public safety,” Munks wrote.

Above capacity

Over the last 10 years, the average number of inmates residing daily at San Mateo County jails has remained relatively consistent. The combined rated capacity of the men’s and women’s jail facilities is 834. Numbers are total average daily population, by year.

2001: 1,074
2002: 1,032
2003: 1,132
2004: 1,107
2005: 1,070
2006: 1,132
2007: 1,200
2008: 1,125
2009: 1,106

Source: San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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